Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Portland Trail Blazers Season Preview

DENVER, CO - APRIL 9: CJ McCollum (3) of the Portland Trail Blazers falls into teammates as they celebrate a three pointer he made agains the Denver Nuggets during the second half of the Nuggets' 88-82 win on Monday, April 9, 2018. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Coming off a disappointing playoff exit last season, the Portland Trail Blazers will look to bounce back this year. Led by their dynamic backcourt duo, the team will once again rely on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to carry them to the post-season. Expected to compete for a playoff spot again this season, the big question in Portland is whether or not this backcourt led team will ever take the next step. Head coach Terry Stotts and his team have been good for a while now, but the 2018-19 NBA season could make or break this Blazers team. Here is the Portland Trail Blazers Season Preview.

Portland Trail Blazers Season Preview

What Worked Last Season

Solid offensively, the Blazers ranked 16th in points per game. Led by Lillard and McCollum, averaging 105.6 points per game is to be expected. The duo helped lead Coach Stotts team to 49 wins on the season, but the offense wasn’t the only key to winning. Defensively, the Blazers ranked 5th in opposition points per game and top-five in opposition free throw percentage, two-point percentage, and shooting efficiency. Stotts’ team could beat anyone at both ends of the court.

The Blazers also excelled on the boards, ranking top-10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding. Portland defended as a team, making things even harder for their opposition on a nightly basis. The Blazers did a good job of taking care of the ball, ranking 11th in turnovers per game. Taking care of the ball is one thing, but stopping your opposition is another. The Blazers performed extremely well in the first half of games last season. Ranking 5th in opposition first-quarter points, the Blazers improved defensively as the first half went on. The team ranked 2nd in second-quarter opposition points, setting themselves up well for the second-half.

What Needs Improvement

Despite entering the playoffs as the 3rd seed, Portland was a rather average statistical team. Swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round, the warning signs were always there. Struggling to force turnovers all season, the Blazers ranked 29th in opposition turnovers. The team also committed too many fouls, ranking 23rd in personal fouls per game. Failing to defend the rim, the Blazers ranked as low as 24th in blocks per game.

Defensively, the Blazers were a strong first-half team. However, on offense, they struggled to take advantage. Ranking 18th in first-quarter points, the Blazers got worse as the half went on. The Blazers ranked 22nd in second quarter points, with their defensive efforts going to waste. Creating for each other is another area which needs to be improved. Ranking dead last in assists per game, the Blazers would do well to focus more on sharing the ball. Last season, the Blazers were a slow team. Ranking last in fastbreak points, Portland struggled in so many areas during the regular season. They may have been the 3rd seed, but the numbers suggest a playoff upset was on the way.

Off-Season Changes

Draft night saw the Blazers select two guards – Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. Both Simons and Trent will replace the two outgoing Blazer guards. Shabazz Napier has moved on, now a member of the Brooklyn Nets. Pat Connaughton also left the team this off-season, as the Blazers backcourt gets younger. The team also moved on from C.J. Wilcox, Ed Davis, and Georgios Papagiannis. Free agency saw the team add Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas. However, the Blazers biggest move was made in-house.

The Blazers Re-signed big man Jusuf Nurkic to a four-year, $48 million deal. Bringing back Nurkic on a team friendly deal, the Blazers have secured their big man of the future. Averaging 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 79 games, Nurkic was a key player, complementing the star-studded backcourt well.

2018-19 Season Prediction

The Portland Trail Blazers are under pressure, as well as head coach Terry Stotts. The Blazers face a make or break season after last seasons awful playoff exit. It’s unlikely the Blazers win 49 games this time around, but what is predictable is Lillard and McCollum. Portland’s excellent backcourt should once again carry the team into playoff contention. The 3rd seed is out of their reach, with a number of teams improving this off-season. Unfortunately for Blazer fans, all signs point to this season developing into the same old story. A good regular season is one thing, but taking the next step and making a statement in the playoffs is another. The Blazers just don’t have what it takes, as yet another season looks set to be squandered.

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